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Digital minimalism – how to reduce screen time and stay current

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Asurvey asked 1,180 millennials ages 18 to 34 what they would be willing to give up for their smartphones. An astonishing 41% said they would rather give up shampooing for a week than forego their phone for the same amount of time. It was more important for these people to stay digitally connected than to have clean hair. (Source)

This is a sign that digital natives—the generation that has lived with the internet and technology and for all or most of their teen and adult life—sees their mobile devices as necessity rather than luxury. They simply cannot live without their phone. Digital immigrants—those who have adapted to technology as it’s become available—still remember what life was like before screens were such a constant fixture, and are more willing to unplug. Despite that, living in the current digital era means even with a strong desire to reduce the amount of time spent in front of a screen, it’s easier said than done.

The need for Digital Minimalism only exists because of Digital Addiction. The World Health Organisation now includes Gaming Disorder in the International Classification of Diseases, and Internet Addiction Disorder—while not officially recognized as a disorder—is incredibly pervasive in American and European cultures affecting up to 8.2% of the general population. As a society, we are addicted to technology. And it can be a hard addiction to break given that there’s really no escaping it.

For a large percentage of people, the nature of their employment means spending a vast amount of time of a computer. Plus, when not working, the average person spends almost 3 hours per day on their phone, or online for their own entertainment. In fact, according to comScore, 1 out of every 2 minutes spent online is on activities such as watching videos, entertainment/music, and playing games.

This is not a life that can be sustained.

It’s time to minimize the amount of time spent interacting with digital media. It’s time to live a real life, not a life behind a screen. It’s time to eliminate those areas of life that are not adding value to your life. Digital minimalism is about being present in the here and the now, and using technology only with intent, rather than as an idle distraction. It’s about recognizing what digital tools are needed to increase efficiency and add value to your life, and what you can do without.

How could your life benefit from digital minimalism?

It may not always be possible to completely detox from screen time while at work. However, there are certain ways to streamline your use of technology in order to build a healthier relationship with technology, and the benefits are well worth it:

  • The amount of data about you online will decrease. When you’re not on social media, browsing websites, or shopping online, no data is being collected about you. You won’t be bombarded by advertising messages based on your preferences, and it won’t feel like Big Brother is constantly watching you.
  • You will be able to switch off from being at work. Constantly checking your phone means you can’t even truly forget about work and disconnect. It’s important for you and your family to be able to separate home life from work life.
  • Your mental health and wellness will improve. Several studies have shown that social media can be bad for your mental health, being associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and FOMO, or “fear of missing out.”
  • You will become more organized. Deleting apps you don’t use, ignoring non-urgent emails, and not checking your phone every few minutes means you have more time to actually complete what you are currently working in with a more focused mind. Free from distractions, we will no longer try to accomplish 5 tasks in one, helping to streamline your day.

How does one go about minimizing digitally?

First things first, you should remove anything digital from your life that is not adding value. There are three big contributors to digital distraction—email, internet and social media. A decade ago, each of these played a much smaller role than they do now, largely because they were not available in the palm of our hands as they are now.

1.Email

The average professional spends 28% of the work day reading and answering email, which equates to 2.6 hours and 120 messages received per day. There are two extremes of people when it comes to dealing with this onslaught of daily emails; at one end, there are those who almost compulsively clear emails as soon as they enter their inbox, no matter what they are working on at the time. At the other end are those who are almost resigned to the fact that they will never clear their inbox, and almost ignore their emails throughout the day. Digital minimalists find a more moderate approach: simply, checking their email less often.

  1. Avoid the temptation to check your emails first thing in the morning—before you know it, it’s noon and you’re still wading through emails. Embrace a morning of no emails. Spend this time on the work that is going to help you achieve your goals.
  2. There’s lots of research that suggests it can take people quite some time to get back to the task they were working on after an interruption, such as a break to check email. So instead of checking every time there is a notification, treat email as a to-do and schedule it in your calendar for late afternoon. Schedule one hour to work on emails. Skim over them for any requiring immediate attention as many emails tend to solve themselves. Once the hour is up, close your emails.
  3. Over-checking email wastes 21 minutes per day. On average, professionals check their emails every 37 minutes. However, if people checked their email hourly rather than every 37 minutes, they could cut six email checks from their day.
  4. Turn off email notifications so you won’t be distracted.
  5. Unsubscribe from anything you don’t need such as email newsletters. You might have signed up for them with good intentions, but if you aren’t reading them, remove them.
  6. Keep emails short and to the point. Don’t write ten sentences when two will do. Try to reply to every email with three sentences or less, and be assertive and decisive when answering questions. Avoid asking more questions.
  7. If the email does not require a paper trail, and you are replying to someone within the same office, go and have a physical interaction with them instead.

2. Internet usage

Ofcom in the UK conducted a study and found that people are on average online for 24 hours a week, twice as long as 10 years ago, with one in five of all adults spending as much as 40 hours a week on the web. A 2019 report by HootSuite and We Are Social revealed that the average internet user spends more than a quarter of their life online.

It’s safe to say, humans are addicted to the internet.

Keep in mind that the internet is incredibly useful, and vital to many workplaces. In fact, many workplaces grind to a halt when the internet is down. While most people cannot live their current lifestyle without the internet, the need to actually live without it is critical.

Here’s how to achieve digital minimalism on the internet:

  • Be honest with yourself, and determine where your biggest time wasters are. Do you spend too long reading news articles that aren’t really adding any value to your life? Are you a big gamer? Is Reddit your go-to site when you’re bored? Anything that is not essential for work should be considered a timewaster.
  • Once you know where you waste your time, remove any bookmarks to reach these sites easily, and if you’re really serious about it, block those websites.
  • Take up another activity to do when you would previously have spent a few minutes searching the web for no reason. Take a quick walk, go and get a glass of water, do some deep breathing exercises, or take a few minutes to chat with a coworker, family member or stranger.

3. Social Media

We are all guilty of it. In line at the grocery store we pull out our phones and scroll through Facebook for a few minutes to ease the boredom. Bus rides are made more bearable with Instagram. Snapchat keeps us entertained throughout the day. But where has real life interaction gone?In the current digital age, most of us are slowly becoming social media addicts. Just like other digital platforms mentioned, your life could significantly improve with social media minimization, and these tips can help you achieve it:

  • Restrict social media usage: To start with, set alarms for when you can can check your social media. This might sound extreme, but it’s often easier to create concrete times when you can check social media rather than just saying “I’ll go on Facebook less”. Start with an alarm every 30 minutes, then move to every 45 minutes, or every hour. When your alarm sounds, spend three minutes going through any and all notifications and then reset the timer.
  • Be accountable: Tell your social media network that you are trying to reduce your time on social media platforms and therefore you may not respond to messages as quickly as before.
  • Turn off push notifications: Only check notifications at your allocated social media times. This will remove the distractions and unconscious behaviors that lead you down a social media rabbit hole that can eat into hours of your day.
  • Be selective in what and who you follow: Unfriend anyone that doesn’t add value to your life, and unfollow accounts that are known time wasters for you. If it doesn’t interest, entertain, or inform you anymore, it’s time to go.
  • Limit yourself to one or two platforms only.
  • Delete social media entirely: If you feel you can do it, go cold turkey and delete all social media platforms. If cold turkey is too much, deactivate your profiles for a few weeks, and eventually delete.

4. Phone usage

Who can honestly say that they haven’t reached for their phone when bored to mindlessly scroll through apps or social media? Or checked their phone even though they did not hear a notification? If you find yourself checking your phone first thing in the morning, you aren’t alone. According to a 2016 Deloitte survey, 18% of consumers worldwide check their phones immediately upon waking up, 43% of people within five minutes and 62% within 15 minutes. Unfortunately, however, by checking your phone first thing, you are starting the day in a reactive mode. The content of your phone can dictate how your day is going to start before you even get out of bed.

Our phones are with us almost 24/7—22 hours a day to be precise for 79% of adult smartphone users, according to a report from IDC Research— and this “always on” state is not healthy. These tips can help you remove your dependency on your phone:

  1. Remove Apps. Delete all the apps you don’t use anymore, or those that don’t add any value to your life. Games, entertainment and yes, even social media.
  2. Remove Notifications. For any apps you do leave on your phone remove notifications so that, as with email notifications, you’re not interrupted and distracted throughout the day.Remember, if there’s some breaking world news, you’ll hear about it even if you don’t get a notification on your phone.
  3. Do Not Disturb. Schedule Do Not Disturb after working hours so you can relax, such as from 8 PM to 8 AM.
  4. Bedtime: Use the Bedtime feature so that you are not disturbed by notifications or a bright screen at night.
  5. Use a regular alarm clock: These do exist! Then, charge your phone in another room. This may be hard at first, so first try charging across the room, out of reach, and then slowly make the transition to charging in another room.
  6. Use voice activation tools as much as possible. Using Siri to turn music on and off for example will keep your phone out of your hands and help you live a more screen-free life. This way you are not tempted to check your social media, email or the internet when opening your phone.

Digital minimalism is a process, not an action. It’s a state of mind rather something you do once. Be patient. It might not come naturally, and you will probably subconsciously still reach for your device, open the internet or check your emails, but with time and practice it’ll be something you do less and less. Ultimately, digital minimalism will help you slow down and focus on what truly matters—building more meaningful relationships with people in your life, maximizing your potential, and being more present in the life you are leading here and now.

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Feedback and comments are always welcome. If you have any questions, you are welcome to contact me at jp.odonnell@amaxra.com You can also connect with me via LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/jpodonnell2.

about the author

JP O'Donnell

Results driven leader who is able to quickly understand the business situation, create the strategic plan to address it, build consensus, then go execute it. Expertise developing strategy, tactics, and team members. Proven ability to drive revenue through new business acquisition and existing client management.

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